Yearning (1964)

11 05 2008

After a long personal hiatus from Naruse, I return to the master with Yearning, one of his very best. As one can expect from Naruse, this is a very downplayed drama, meticulously composed with an admiration for the tohoscope format, which Naruse perfected in the 60s. Like Floating Clouds, this takes an almost absurd melodramatic turn during the final act and yet, the film manages to come off incredibly well. Perhaps these “turns” only seem melodramatic because Naruse always downplays the events leading up. Regardless, this is a master in his prime, i.e essential viewing.

Reiko owns and operates a small-town market that is on its last leg. This is mostly due to the corporate supermarket that is taking a majority of the town’s market. Within the market, Reiko takes care of her mother-in-law as well her brother-in-law, Koji. After her husband’s death, Reiko piled herself in work to erase the pain but the idle time has given her time to reflect on her life and she sees it as a waste. Meanwhile, Koji, is harboring a longtime crush on Reiko. Without a job, he’s given time to goof off with his older buddies. He’s offered an opportunity to start a new supermarket and in the process, leave Reiko forever.

Once again, Naruse displays his unquestioned ability to work in the ‘scope format. Perhaps it is due to the long break I’ve had from him, but this film, in particular, seemed a bit more edited than his other efforts from the 1960s. The increase in cutting actually makes the few longer shots seem all the more remarkable. Judging a Naruse film on shot length isn’t really necessary, though. In all of his films, especially this one, there is a repetition in the shot set-ups that make his style very surveillance-like. This perfectly fits in with the usual dark humor that seems more pronounced than before. There’s a few sequence that are unbearably awkward in the greatest of ways.

The above description fits the film first hour or so and then things begin to take a much more tragic turn. Reiko announces her plans to return home and leave the shop. In response, Koji follows her. There are many sequences in which the attitude of the couple shifts so quickly. A realistic shift, of course, but it is hard not to have the word melodramatic pop in your head. In theory, the accusations of Naruse being melodramatic could be just when one considers just how anti-dramatic his style is. I suppose when something plot related actually happens, it glaringly so. However, in the case of this film, I think the overly-expressive musical score is to blame. Some of the film’s music is quite good, actually. It has an almost Hawaiian sensibility to it, reminding one of Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild. That’s just one piece, though. The score that acts as a dramatic guide is atrocious, though, and threatens to dilute the power of Naruse’s images. It’s never quite that bad but it certainly is a nuisance.

The most perfect example of the score’s awkward placement comes in the film’s beautifully composed final sequence. I don’t want to give anything away, but the final occurrence is a tragic one. However, Naruse pulls it off in classiest (or non-exploitive) of ways and with enough visual elegance to equate to the end of L’Avventura. The score, which serves no purpose almost makes this sequence a laughable mess. Only on a second viewing with the sound turned off could I appreciate this fabulous sequence. So really, this is a perfect film, but with a very out-of-place of score. One of Naruse’s greatest works from the 60s, a period in which he could do no wrong.

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One response

11 05 2008
wkw

I love the train scenes in this, probably the most beautiful scene I’ve seen from Naruse.

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